A Daesh cell member who participated in the conspiracy that resulted in the murder of American journalists and charity workers in Syria was sentenced to life in prison by a US federal judge on Friday.
El Shafee Elsheikh, 34, was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole by District Court Judge T.S. Ellis while the relatives and friends of the four Americans killed as well as other hostages previously held by the militant group watched. Judge Ellis described El Shafee Elsheikh’s actions as “horrific, barbaric, brutal, and, of course, criminal.”
A jury in April came to the conclusion that the former British citizen was a member of a Daesh cell known as “The Beatles” because of their English accents and responsible for beheading American hostages in regions of the Middle East under their control.
After a two-week trial, he was found guilty on four charges of hostage-taking and four counts of conspiracy.
Sitting in the front rows of the courtroom, the friends and family of the victims appeared clearly upset throughout the hearing as they consoled one another and shed tears. Eight life sentences were given to Elsheikh concurrently.
From 2014 to 2017, when it was at its most powerful, Daesh controlled millions of people and claimed responsibility for or inspiration behind assaults in dozens of places around the globe.
In 2014, the group’s leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, established a caliphate over a fourth of Iraq and Syria. As the group’s reign began to crumble in 2019, he was killed in a US special forces raid in Syria.
Elsheikh, an American who was raised in London but was born in Sudan, was charged with planning the murder of Kayla Mueller, Steven Sotloff, James Foley, and Peter Kassig.
Journalists Foley and Sotloff and aid worker Kassig perished in beheadings that were captured on camera. US officials have claimed that Mueller was repeatedly raped by Al-Baghdadi before she was killed in Syria.
2014 saw the confirmation of the demises of Foley, Sotloff, and Kassig; early 2015 saw the confirmation of Mueller’s demise.
Elsheikh showed up on Friday in a gray jumpsuit, a facemask, and glasses in a federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. His victims’ relatives and friends were asked to speak in front of the judge.
“Hatred completely overtook your humanity,” Foley’s mother, Diane, said, later breaking down in tears. “I pity you. I pray your time in prison will give you a time to reflect.” Friday marked the eighth anniversary of Foley’s beheading.
The families of the victims “have shown remarkable fortitude and bravery in giving their accounts of what happened to investigators, and in court,” according to Richard Smith, chief of the London police’s Counter Terrorism Command.
Elsheikh, whose British citizenship was revoked in 2018, faced accusations that might have resulted in the death penalty; however, US prosecutors had already informed British officials that they would not seek the death penalty.
In order to stop Elsheikh from harming others in the future and to establish a precedent that such crimes will result in severe punishment, prosecutors claimed that a life sentence was necessary.
First Assistant US Attorney Raj Parekh stated in court on Friday during the hearing that “The Beatles were genuine psychopaths,” adding that Elsheikh was the highest-ranking member of the Daesh to ever be convicted in a US Court.
An American judge earlier this year condemned Alexanda Kotey, another cell member, to life in jail. Before being sent to the US to stand prosecution, Kotey was detained in Iraq by US military personnel. Last September, he entered a plea of guilty to the deaths of Foley, Sotloff, Kassig, and Mueller.
Mohammed Emwazi, a third member of the group, perished in a 2015 US-British missile attack in Syria.
After lengthy discussions, some former hostages were freed by the cell, and they later testified in court about the abuse they suffered. Also testifying were members of the victims’ families.